Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is skeptical about claims that range cattle are out to get the native desert tortoise. The court has agreed with him. But still every rancher in Clark County (51 to be exact) and their cattle, except Bundy, have been removed in an effort to protect the shelled creature. Or so the story goes.
“Our tri-county cattle association sued the government and won. The court said there was no evidence that the cows interfered with the tortoise,” Bundy explained. “That should have solved the problem but the environmentalists said that there ‘may be’ a problem like a cow stepping on a tortoise sometime in the future, so the tortoise got placed on the endangered species list.” And the cattle population, along with the ranching culture and industry in that part of the world has been nearly wiped away.
Actually, Bundy claims, the declaration of the desert tortoise as an endangered species, and the following habitat protections “pretty much eliminated all ranchers from Arizona west to the Pacific Ocean.
“I was too stubborn to just give up my rights, and I said ‘no’ to their plan,” Bundy explained in a soft-spoken voice. “The feds don’t really own this land. I said ‘no’ and then later I said ‘hell, no,’ I’m not going to pay the BLM to manage my ranch out of business so I fired the BLM and quit paying their fees,” he explained.
The feds then responded with a lawsuit of their own, Bundy explained, and got a court decision from a U.S. district court telling him to remove his cattle and pay trespass fees. “I continued to graze my cattle and told them ‘if you continue to push me, I’m going to fight the endangered species act and the state sovereignty thing,’” he said. “They left me alone for about 20 years.” But about a year and a half ago, the Las Vegas City Life publication wrote a story about his situation, which ‘stirred up the environmentalists again,’ and they threatened a lawsuit if Bundy wasn’t forced, by the federal government, to remove his cattle, he explained.
Bundy went on to say that his cattle, which run like “wild deer or elk” over several hundred thousand acres, aren’t exactly easy to gather on an evening or even a weekend. “They sent a cowboy with helicopters, along with agents and cops to gather my cattle,” he said. But Bundy had his own line of defense. “I volunteered by county sheriff to protect my life, liberty and property. This is one way I defend myself, with notice to the proper authority. It is their responsibility to protect me.”
The BLM “got right to the last day” before calling off the gathering plans, calling the county sheriff, and postponing the gathering. “When I talked to my county sheriff afterward, he told me to ‘go to ranching.’” Bundy said proudly. “That’s been over a year ago and I’ve been ranching ever since.”
But the agency didn’t leave him alone. “The government filed a lawsuit against me and for the last year and a half I’ve been fighting that,” Bundy said. “They got a judge to say they could seize and impound my cattle.”
The agency continues to work on obtaining a restraining order against Bundy “so I couldn’t protect my cattle….they want a restraining order against the sheriff, state brand inspector and me,” he said, but explained that the issue remains before the judge and hasn’t been granted.
Bundy will appeal on two fronts. “I’m going to appeal the endangered species…there is an administrative regulatory error in their law. The desert tortoise doesn’t qualify under the Endangered Species Act. The other appeal is on the disclaimer clause. This is Nevada state land. The Constitution clearly spells that out. The State of Nevada owns this land, not the federal government. I don’t know why most people assume the federal government owns this land.”
According to an August 2013 AP story posted on Bundy’s blog, “Federal funds are running out at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center and officials plan to close the site and euthanize hundreds of the tortoises they’ve been caring for since the reptiles were added to the endangered species list in 1990.”
According to a recent LA Times story, “Bundy believes big government is trying to sabotage his plans to one day hand over the ranch’s reins to his [heirs,] by stripping Bundy of land-use rights his family spent a century earning. He says overregulation has already driven scores of fellow ranchers out of business in sprawling Clark County, leaving him as the last man standing.”
“When the pioneers came here, the first thing they did was unbuckle the harness on their horses and what did the horses need, they needed a drink…and at that time they started to make beneficial use of that resource,” explained Bundy. “They didn’t have a bale of hay, they grazed forage and they started to make a beneficial use of that forage.” Bundy said that many pioneers continued doing the same thing, claiming for themselves rights to the resources. “Some of the neighbors quit using the land and they traded or sold it, so when it came to my generation, we’ve either bought or inherited the grazing rights through an accumulation of the original pioneers. We’ve since created fee land rights. This has been the basic use for it and we are still using it.”
Bundy said he is familiar with a pipeline running from Wyoming to California. Almost $1 billion in litigation fees had to be paid by the pipeline because it was passing through the habitat of the desert tortoise. “They said half the cost of the pipeline was mitigation fees, so now how much more does your gas cost you? They’ve been blackmailing us, they’ve (the environmental organizations) committed fraud on the American people and it’s time someone held them accountable and I’m up in front to keep them accountable, I just don’t know how long I can do this.”
“The thing I want people to understand is that this battle is over jurisdiction and authority,” Bundy said. “I don’t want to talk about anything but county right now. I believe that this land is county public land. It is not United States public land, it belongs to the state of Nevada…so this land should be administrated by the county commissioners.” Bundy said the county sherrif is elected and paid by the people of the county and should be expected to carry out the responsibility of protecting life, liberty and property.